Reflection Letter

My journey up to this point in the program has been unexpected, eclectic, and growth intensive. I am a natural communicator, coming from multiple generations of teachers and talking by eight months old. Looking back at my path it is obvious that the common thread has been creating connections through communication. As such, I gravitated towards teaching communication as a career.

I have been privileged to teach a variety of communication courses at UTPA/UTRGV for the past eight years. During my time as a lecturer, I have taught numerous upper and lower face-to-face communication courses.  While I generally felt confident about my ability to teach in a face-to-face setting, I felt unfamiliar with the new instructional technologies needed today to gain and retain students’ attention and make the learning process appealing. Moreover, I felt hesitant about teaching online even though I understood that technology can enhance the quality of instruction and broaden the scope of education beyond basic textbooks.

Around 2014, I developed an interest in online teaching after attending an online teaching workshop provided by the Center for Online Teaching, Training, and Learning at UTPA.  Although many of my colleagues rejected the idea of teaching communication online, I embraced online teaching as I knew that it was an educational platform that is here to stay. While I was excited to learn about online instruction, I feared it. I knew how to teach in a classroom but was unsure about how that would translate to an online setting. To overcome my fear, I decided to undertake a Master of Education in Educational Technology degree at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

My confidence and comfort level for teaching online has increased as I have progressed through the program. There are many things that I have learned throughout the program which are difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs, however I view the program through three main perspectives 1) Online teaching is an active process; 2) Online teaching is a relational process; and 3) Online teaching is a scholarly process.

Online Teaching is an Active Process

First, I have learned that students learn in different ways and at different rates. Thus, students who are exposed to many different approaches find the material much more understandable and relatable than courses based on just one or another methodology. Therefore, I strive to create clear learning objectives and activities that adhere to different types of learning when providing online instruction.

Because learning is an active process, I try to captivate my students by creating a course structure that promotes student participation. In a field that is based on sending and receiving messages, it is important to encourage new ideas, and to allow students to express themselves after thinking critically. Through the program, I have learned to create interactive discussion forums and assignments that promote communication and collaboration. Online portals provide a space for students to express themselves academically and in ways that they may not in a face-to-face classroom.  Students learn through their communication with others and build social, teamwork, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills. Moreover, students learn to work and communicate in diverse groups.

Furthermore, I’ve learned about the importance of creating engaging multimedia presentations and instructional activities. My coursework has taught me to think about how I develop my multimedia presentations. For example, before entering the program I thought that it is best to present information in a PowerPoint with narration and text occurring simultaneously. It seemed logical to present key concepts in text and then explain those key concepts through narration.  However, after taking courses like Multimedia and Hypermedia, I’ve learned that this can cause cognitive overload. Now, when creating multimedia resources, I include only animation and narration as it allows the learners to process the information through their verbal and visual channels. Moreover, I try to create multimedia tools that include only simple narration and animation.

Online Teaching is a Relational Process

I have learned that teaching and learning is an interdependent relationship that involves both the teacher and student. As a student, I value teachers who established interpersonal relationships with their students. This program has taught me that is possible to develop interpersonal relationships with students in online instructional settings.

Teachers who form these relationships use immediacy to show their accessibility and willingness to communicate with students on both a professional and personal level. To build a sense of presence, community, and participation, teachers should be available to answers questions during or after completion of the learning assignment. Courses like Educational Communication have taught me about the importance of providing explanatory feedback to my online students. As such, I highlight what is working well in an assignment and what is not. I provide detailed feedback for learners after each quiz or assignment. The quizzes/assignments not only reveal the right/wrong answers but clarify why the answers are right or wrong. I also include links to outside resources that learners can view on their own time.

In it evident that technology can enhance relationships between teachers and students. Technology can help teachers establish relational power, which is an utmost goal.  Relational influence is very important because if students value their relationship with their teacher, they will be motivated to go beyond their self-expectations.

Online Teaching is a Scholarly Process

This program taught me that teaching a scholarly process that is worthy of academic pursuit. As educators, we should strive to remain current within the field of educational technology and continue to revise learning objectives and instructional practices based on assessment data to enhance the quality of instruction.

In courses like Technology Leadership, Instructional Design, and Instructional Technology, I learned that it is important to explore the potentials of technology for teaching and learning and how educational technology theory relates to research and practice before implementation. When teachers effectively integrate technology in the classroom, it can provide many learning benefits. However, teachers should have a concrete plan for technology initiatives and should be adaptable based on the learners’ needs.  Teachers should work to ensure that their technology initiatives are working in ways they intended for and are meeting learning goals. Moreover, teachers should be experts on their technology they are using and should guide their students in technology use. Because technology is changing so rapidly, it is important for teachers to keep abreast in the educational technology literature, so they may use technology in the classroom impactfully.

The greatest piece of advice I could give to myself and others, is to not be afraid of changing and /or adapting teaching methodologies. Because innovation is always happening in online education, we should be open using new technologies and instructional strategies.  I relate this thought to the Jean Pigate quote “The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” As teachers, we shouldn’t be afraid of trying new things. Technology is a powerful tool that can be used to transform learning. If used correctly, it can enhance learning and prepare our students for life. If used incorrectly, it can disrupt learning.  Online teaching, like any pedagogy, can be done well if one applies learning theories and skills appropriately. We should continue to research and apply new technologies and methods in education to better our students.

Following my graduation from the Educational Technology program, my short-term goal is to incorporate my learnings from the program into my own courses. Now, I strive to incorporate technology into each lesson in a meaningful way to enrich the learning experience. I have been fortunate to be able to teach a course called Communication for the Classroom Teacher which focuses on the application of communication theory and research to the context of classroom instruction.  The theories discussed in class apply primarily to face-to-face instruction without the use of technology. As educators know, education has become a blended process in which instructors must be able to incorporate technology into learning environments. I would like to teach online instructional strategies to my students who can incorporate them into their own classrooms someday. In the long-term, I hope to create another interdisciplinary undergraduate course titled Communication for the Online Teacher which blends teaching theories from the communication field and the educational technology field. This course will be designed for students who want to teach, train, and develop others through online portals. I want to be a teacher and leader who can guide students appropriately in a rapidly changing educational environment.

On a personal level, I hope to one day serve a communication trainer for local businesses, specifically Yaqui Animal Rescue. I will use my knowledge to assess the needs of businesses and provide effective communication training that will significantly contribute to the company’s image. In each of my various roles I strive to be hardworking, honest, and reliable. I will take the information and skills gain in this course with me throughout my career as an educator.

Last updated: July 2018